Don’t worry, the grass isn’t dead!

Courses and Travel

We're experiencing the hottest summer since 1976. We asked Andy Laing, course manager at Gaudet Luce in Worcestershire, to explain how it’s affecting our courses and assess the long-term impact

If you like your course to be as deep a shade of green as possible then this summer has been sending you into torment.

It’s not unusual to see a links course a little browned off when the mercury rises but the high temperatures – part of the hottest period we’ve seen for more than four decades – has scorched courses whether they are inland or by the sea.

For lovers of parkland, used to lush fairways and tangly rough, the sight of balls bouncing down barren grass with nothing to stop them, has probably been something of a shock.

But what’s actually happening to our courses during this hot streak? What’s going on with the grass and underneath the soil? Will the turf recover now some rain has finally started to arrive?

We put some of these questions to Andy Laing, course manager at Gaudet Luce, in Worcestershire, and found out how he deals with the roasting conditions.

How big a challenge has this summer been?

Grass is quite resilient. It’s not going to die. It will turn brown, wilt and become dormant, which to an untrained eye could be mistaken for being dead. But it’s not. It’s just dormant and using its energy to protect its root systems so that it can recover once the weather breaks.

It’s aesthetic more than anything as courses actually play quite well in these conditions. Links courses tend to have this look during most summers.

But for an inland parkland course like us, it’s a look our members aren’t particularly used to as its been many years since we have had a summer as dry as this.

I know I have never experienced conditions such as this during my career. For our members it’s quite a surprise.

When they turn in to the golf club and look down the drive across the golf course, they think ‘what on earth has happened? It’s brown. The course is dead.’

It’s dormant and dry and, but with the first bit of rainfall, it will recover quite quickly.

Are the greens a separate case?

Absolutely. All greens and tees are irrigated automatically overnight. There are areas that will begin to dry off, such as those that get a lot of sand splash from bunkers and any high spots, but it also highlights any disparity in the irrigation systems coverage. Any faulty sprinklers are soon highlighted in these conditions and these areas have to be watered by hand until repair work can be undertaken.

We’ve certainly got areas on and around our greens that aren’t getting as much water as they perhaps should.

That’s something that only really highlights itself in these extreme temperatures and it becomes a juggling act then between system repairs and improvements, hand watering and water conservation.

Is it worth investing a lot of funds into irrigation system upgrades when in an average year it may not be required?

How much extra water would you use in a summer like this compared with an average one?

I’ve used 50 per cent more to date this year.

Although we have long term plans to look to other water sources we are currently using mains water for irrigation purposes and this has presented a new problem for us to try and overcome this year.

While our irrigation system isn’t bad, due to demand the mains water supply in our area has been considerably down on pressure meaning that it’s been difficult for us to refill our storage tanks sufficiently during the day, in time for the start of our automatic irrigation cycle overnight.

We are having to be very conservative in what we use, and are continually adjusting our program to target the driest areas on greens and tees. Our automatic cycle is always kept to a minimum, which enables us to top up by hand watering the hot spots during the day.

It is not normal for us to experience water supply problems – this is the first time I have experienced it. Water is just not in plentiful supply this year.

What knock on effects will these conditions have for the rest of the year?

It’s very hard to kill grass so I am not too concerned whether it will recover. There may be some weaker areas such as high spots on fairways that have become particularly baked or that have had a lot of traffic that may well need some extra TLC during the Autumn.

We may need to do some localised overseeding work when the rain does come, just to get back to full strength but we’re certainly not talking about course wide work. It’s just in the particularly stressed areas.

95 per cent of the golf course will recover quite happily on its own devices without intervention.

When the grass is dormant, are you still irrigating the fairways or do you just leave it until it changes?

We don’t irrigate fairways here. We only have a greens and tees based irrigation system. We are on a heavy clay-based soil so the necessity for fairway irrigation just isn’t there.

Clay soils take quite a long time to dry out as it holds on to a lot of moisture for quite a long time. So, for the amount that it would be used, it just doesn’t warrant the cost of the installation.

You would be looking anywhere from £750,000 to £1 million upwards for the installation of an irrigation system on fairways, greens and tees. It just wouldn’t be viable for us.

Golfers are not used to seeing courses looking like this, I have never seen our course look so parched.

There is the perception that green is good. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but for a parkland golf course, that’s kind of what it relies on.

For an inland, parkland, course where people are used to seeing it striped up, lush and green it is probably a bit of a shock to the system!

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